Non-profit

Secure Democracy

Website:

www.secure-democracy.org

Tax ID:

83-3846342

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

President:

Heather Smith

Founded:

2018

Latest Filing:

2019 Form 990

Founded in 2018, Secure Democracy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that bills itself as a nonpartisan organization, but has deep ties to left-leaning activists, PACs, and law firms. The organization works exclusively on election policy advocacy, and supports expanding early voting, further utilization of mail-in ballot drop boxes, and reducing restrictions on absentee voting.[1] The organizations website also states that it supports “Restoring voter eligibility to the thousands of Americans who have returned home from prison but do not have a voice in their communities.” [2]

Leadership

Though they are not mentioned on the organization’s leadership webpage, the organization is led by a board of directors with a history of work in left-leaning activism. [3]

President Heather Smith previously spent 14 years working at Rock the Vote, a left leaning organizing group, serving as President and on the board of directors. She also spent five years working as an organizer at the Green Corps, a left-leaning environmentalist organization. [4]

Secretary Michael Silberman worked for five years as the global director of the digital mobilization lab at Greenpeace, a radical left-wing environmentalist group, and worked as a national meetup director for Howard Dean’s campaign in the 2004 Democratic primary.[5]

Treasurer Brianna Cayo Cotter is also a senior vice president at Viacom, the national media conglomerate which owns CBS, MTV, and other large television channels, and has previously worked for Change.org and the Rainforest Action Network, a left-leaning environmentalist group.[6]

Ties to Perkins Coie

According to the Washington D.C. corporate registry, Secure Democracy is owned by a board of four governors. The owners are the three board members, Heather Smith, Michael Silberman, and Brianna Cayo Cotter, but also Graham Wilson, formerly a partner at the high-profile Democratic Party affiliated law firm Perkins Coie, now at the Elias Law Group.[7]

See here, Secure Democracy’s list of beneficial owners from the Washington D.C. corporate registry.

Ties to left-leaning PAC

In 2018, Secure Democracy’s Form 990’s listed a D.C. address that was also listed as the address of the Not Who We Are PAC.[8] [9] During 2015 and 2016, the PAC’s major only major years of operation, the Not Who We Are PAC was funded almost exclusively by large contributions from high-profile Silicon Valley billionaires known for funding left-wing activist groups. For example, Pierre Omidyar contributed $200,000, Dustin Moskovitz contributed $125,000, his wife Cari Tuna contributed $125,000, and Christopher Hughes contributed $250,000. [10]

Lobbying

According to Open Secrets, a watchdog organization, Secure Democracy has spent $200,000 on lobbying activity since 2020. [11]

In 2020, the organization paid $90,000 to retain the services of Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm led by Brian Ballard, a lobbyist with ties to President Donald Trump who was once called the “most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” [12] The lobbying was reportedly for “issues related to educating policy makers on ways to ensure safe and secure elections.” [13]

Later in 2020, the organization paid $60,000 to another lobbying firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs, for lobbying services for unspecified government issues. [14]

In 2021, Secure Democracy paid Blue Mountain Strategies, a lobbying firm also used by Facebook and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, $30,000 for lobbying related to the “For the People Act” and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. [15] [16] The lobbyist retained by Secure Democracy was listed as Luke Albee, who also works as a legislative affairs consultant for Protect Our Care, a left-leaning front group created by the Sixteen Thirty Fund. [17]

Funding

In 2019 Secure Democracy received $2.7 million in grants. [18]

In 2020 Secure Democracy received $700k from the Unite America PAC, a left-leaning hybrid PAC that claims to be centrist, but aligns very closely with left-leaning organizations and candidates. [19]

In 2020, Secure Democracy also received a $1 million contribution from the North Star Fund, a left-leaning grantmaking entity funded by a range of left-leaning foundations including  George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society and the Ford Foundation.[20]

References

  1. “Protecting Americans’ Freedom to Vote.” Secure Democracy. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.secure-democracy.org/home/#work^
  2. “Protecting Americans’ Freedom to Vote.” Secure Democracy. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.secure-democracy.org/home/#work. ^
  3. Return of Tax-exempt Organization. Form 990. Secure Democracy. 2018. Part VII. https://apps.irs.gov/pub/epostcard/cor/823846342_201812_990O_2020061117187291.pdf ^
  4. “Heather Smith – Founding Partner – Seven Strategies | Linkedin.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-smith-b90bbb4^
  5. “Michael Silberman – Middlebury College – Linkedin.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/msilberman^
  6. “Brianna Cayo Cotter – Senior Vice President … – Linkedin.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/briannacc^
  7. Person, and David Thomas. “Elias Departs Perkins Coie, as Firm Says Will Continue Political Law Practice.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, August 23, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/elias-departs-perkins-coie-firm-says-will-continue-political-law-practice-2021-08-23/. ^
  8. Return of Tax-exempt Organization. Form 990. Secure Democracy. 2018. Part 1. Item C. https://apps.irs.gov/pub/epostcard/cor/823846342_201812_990O_2020061117187291.pdf. ^
  9. “Report of Receipts FEC and … – Docquery.fec.gov.” Accessed October 7, 2021. https://docquery.fec.gov/pdf/158/201802209094618158/201802209094618158.pdf. ^
  10. “Browse Receipts.” FEC.gov. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/?committee_id=C00623082&two_year_transaction_period=2016&data_type=processed. ^
  11. “Secure Democracy Lobbying Profile.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/summary?cycle=2021&id=F320206. ^
  12. Meyer, Theodoric. “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” POLITICO Magazine, April 2, 2018. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/02/most-powerful-lobbyist-in-trump-washington-217759/. ^
  13. “Secure Democracy Lobbying Reports.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/reports?cycle=2020&id=F320206. ^
  14. Secure Democracy Lobbying Reports.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/clients/reports?cycle=2020&id=F320206. ^
  15. “Blue Mountain Strategies Lobbying Profile.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 11, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/firms/summary?cycle=2021&id=F220971. ^
  16. “LD-2 Disclosure Form.” Accessed October 11, 2021. https://lda.senate.gov/filings/public/filing/1ba4d3ac-830a-40a4-8b69-b7ec50cb077a/print/. ^
  17. “Meet Our Team.” Protect Our Care, October 7, 2021. https://www.protectourcare.org/team/. ^
  18. Return of Tax-exempt Organization. Form 990. Secure Democracy. 2019. Part 1. https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2021/10/Secure-Democracy-2019.pdf ^
  19. “Vendor/Recipient Profile: Secure+Democracy.” OpenSecrets. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/campaign-expenditures/vendor?cycle=2020&vendor=Secure%2BDemocracy. ^
  20. DocumentCloud. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20987863-north-fund-records. ^
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